After a controversial launch last year, Version 2.0 of Final Fantasy XIV Online is underway and promises to fix its bigger problems. So is 2012 the year the game will finally find its footing? We speak with FFXIV producer and director Naoki Yoshida about the game's future, its adherence to its subscription model, and the port to PlayStation 3.
Q: Do you feel this is the year we'll see Final Fantasy XIV at its best?
Naoki Yoshida: I believe this is going to be the year for Final Fantasy XIV and the whole of Square Enix has supported our tireless efforts to work and ensure this is going to be the case.
Q: What is one specific aspect of version 2.0 that you are specifically looking forward to?
NY: As we announced back in October, there are so many improvements coming in Version 2.0 that it's difficult to choose one thing! We're particularly looking forward to being able to open up XIV to a much wider audience with the new scaleable graphics engine that will make the game available to every player regardless of whether they own a high-end PC or not. Our new, user-friendly and customisable UI will also be a vital component to enjoying the world of FF at its best, regardless of platform.
Q: We're seeing so many free-to-play titles do well after adopting the model. What is the incentive behind returning to the subscription model?
NY: We keep a very close eye on all of the different business models and options available to us, and a subscription model is the business strategy that makes the most sense for FFXIV in the current market. However, I do think creating a hybrid from different business models is an interesting proposition, and this may be something we investigate further down the line.
Q: Is there any danger that re-introducing the subscription model will drive away your current fanbase who have grown used to playing for free?
NY: We were very careful to ensure that reintroducing our previously announced subscription model was something our current playing community was comfortable with. Our playing community are vital for the success of XIV, so making sure they are happy with the decisions we make is a key consideration at every stage.
Q: Would you ever consider embracing a non-subscription model in the future or is that not feasible now?
NY: Of course I am very interested in F2P as an alternative business plan, and I will continue to look into it. However adopting a F2P model means changing certain aspects of the game design in order to fit to the model since the prices customers have to pay for F2P are different to those they pay for subscription-based games. Therefore, if we do decide to change the business model in the future, it will also be necessary for us to adjust the game design so that it works accordingly.
Q: How successful do you think the introduction of Chocobo mounts was?
NY: Introducing Chocobos was a big hit - the feedback we got from players was even more enthusiastic than we'd anticipated. Chocobos play a crucial role in the world of Final Fantasy, and we want to use them in different ways so that we can continue entertaining our players.
Q: Can you talk about the new graphics engine, what affect will it have on the game? What were the difficulties developing a new engine?
NY: The new engine will have scaleable graphics, which will enable users to play the game on everything from low-end PCs to PS3 and high-end gaming PCs, and this will be the biggest advantage of the new engine. As for difficulties we encountered, adjusting the memory for the PS3 version has been a challenge for us, but we're very happy with the results we're now seeing.
Q: Over the past year you have been very transparent about the development process to the users. Will this continue on after Version 2.0?
NY: Of course we are going to maintain the same level of service and continue to keep players in the loop. As long as MMOs remain a part of customer service, we think it is vital for players to see who is providing the service and, more importantly, that we listen to the players. The ideal outcome is that we can enjoy the game as developers as much as the players.
Q: You've been pouring so much effort into the PC side of the game. What is the attraction to continuing on with a console port after all this time?
NY: Our stance on developing a game stays consistent whatever the platform is, but issues occurring with the UI are something we need to take into consideration. In particular, the UI needs to accommodate different game play styles for both the PC and console versions. Therefore, the development for the PC and console versions is a completely separate process and one that requires a large amount of effort so we can offer the best UI and experience for both groups of players.
Q: Do you feel you need to win your audience back or are users passionate enough about the Final Fantasy brand alone to return?
NY: Well, we think it is essential to recapture players that we lost at the initial launch of the game and, in order to do that, we do not really want to take advantage of the FF brand. We'll certainly not shy away from the great Final Fantasy heritage if it will be of benefit to the game, but first and foremost we need to ensure that FFXIV in itself is providing an exciting game experience for the players. Therefore, myself and the Dev team want to create a MMO title which is both fun to play and capable of attracting and entertaining large numbers of players. This is the basic position that we also share with our services team. Our goal for the game is simple: we want to ensure that every player who tries out the finished version will be left thinking "wow, version 2.0 is simply mind blowing".